By CBS 17 Digital Desk, Associated Press | March 31, 2021 at 5:40 PM EDT – Updated March 31 at 5:40 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — The North Carolina House of Representatives voted Wednesday to approve the Emergency Powers Accountability Act of HB264 which would require the governor to obtain formal support from other elected leaders to enforce long-term statewide emergency orders.
“It has now been over a year since Governor Cooper unilaterally placed our citizens under a state-wide emergency due to COVID-19,” said Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “Regardless of the politics of his executive orders, this is not how a representative republic works and it is not the intent of the law. No one person should have such sweeping and unilateral authority to shut down our state.”
While state law already requires a governor to run some orders past the Council of State, courts have nearly always upheld Cooper’s ability to act unilaterally during the pandemic due to the public health dangers.
The 69-50 vote comes as another response by GOP legislators to Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders since his March 2020 emergency declaration due to COVID-19. His directives closed school buildings, fitness centers and bars and restricted mass gatherings.
Republicans and some allies have said Cooper has wielded too much individual power during the pandemic.
“Clearly, there needs to be a discussion about the endless duration of power that is granted to the Governor during a self-declared state of emergency,” said bill sponsor, House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Wayne). “This legislation is not about politics – it is about clarifying the law to restore accountability and ensure stronger bipartisan input. The Governor was never intended to have such absolute authority, especially for an unlimited time.”
If passed, the legislation will update and strengthen current law to require the governor to seek the concurrence of the Council of State when issuing a state-wide declaration of emergency beyond thirty days. For this purpose, statewide would mean an emergency area of 67 or more counties.
If the governor doesn’t receive the council’s “concurrence,” the declaration would expire within seven days, under the bill. Otherwise, declarations cannot be extended without the council’s support, and they can’t go beyond 30 days without further concurrence.
The Council of State consists of ten state-wide elected executive offices established by the state constitution – the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor, and Commissioner of Insurance.
Last July, Cooper vetoed a bill somewhat similar to the one being considered.
Committee Democrats opposed to the measure said voters believe such emergency decisions should rest with the governor.
The moves comes as other states across the state are taking steps to reform their emergency management laws.
The Emergency Powers Accountability Act now goes to the NC Senate for further consideration.
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